tv Democracy Now LINKTV April 17, 2014 9:00am-10:01am PDT
movies are the culture of the 20th century. they have affected people in everything, from determining how they dream ... to how they kiss. so much of moviemaking is moving the audience's eye. when are we going move it? how are we going to move it? what do we want them to see? (bell ringing) it's very important to watch every detail in a film, particularly with a director like fritz lang, who's not going to leave anything up to chance. everything is calculated. ♪ (dramatic music plays)
no, johnny! no. well ... maybe. (narrator) never has a woman been more beautifully brutal. oh, i'm sorry i can't ask you to come up, but i share my apartment with another girl. a chance encounter becomes a tale of lust, betrayal, and murder. it's only blackmail, baby, when you're dumb enough to get caught. (knocking on door) you will see it all on "scarlet street," universal's terrific suspense drama. if i weren't a gentleman ... "scarlet street" will shock you. it will show you things that you never knew existed. paint me, chris. you've got a date on "scarlet street." they'll be masterpieces.
"scarlet street" is a film directed by fritz lang. it's about a middle-aged ... mild-mannered, honest bank clerk. his only pleasure is that on sundays he likes to paint. this life is interrupted by his meeting abruptly with a young woman, kitty, whom he falls in love with. she has this kind of boyfriend/pimp character who encourages her to kind of dry hustle edward g. robinson, to encourage him to think that she's a struggling actress who needs support. edward g. robinson starts stealing things from his harridan of a wife. he sets her up in an apartment where he is also going to come and paint. johnny takes the paintings to an art dealer and finds they can make some kind of money, and before they know it, kitty is signing chris's paintings and making money out of them.
chris discovers this plot but doesn't care because he's so enamored of kitty. eventually we think that edward j. robinson is going to knock off his wicked wife. however, by some elaborate subplot, he's managed to get rid of his shrewish wife, and he arrives one night ... and sees his lady love saying sweet nothings and embracing the pimpy character, who blows up when edward j. robinson walks away. chris returns and she ridicules him. she attacks his manliness. he picks up an ice pick and he brutally murders her. however, he's not seen leaving the house. dan durea breaks back into the apartment building, and edward g. robinson stays quiet until dan durea is given the chair. and then, a free man now to paint or whatever he wants to do, it turns out that he's not free. so now he walks around
with their voices forever in his head. he's just led to his fate which is to be alone in an empty world. there's a tremendous abundance of things to discuss in the movies and that one can learn in general about culture and the way that it functions, particularly in the modern world. (narrator) a chance encounter becomes a tale of genre theory, feminist analysis, and auterism. "scarlet street" will open your eyes. it will show you things you never knew existed. it's a rare film for really allowing us to see the pressures and the constraints and the demands on masculinity on men for an ideal of masculinity. i think in lang's kind of worldview,
what he sees is that that little guy is going to lose, you know, that the cynics of the world are going to be able to prey on people who are believers. "scarlet street" could be considered film noir for a number of reasons. first of all, you have a kind of illusion of bourgeois or petty bourgeois order which the bank clerk represents, and that is disrupted. he's cast out from his normal existence into a dangerous, glamorous street world. that sequence when chris cross first sees kitty is close to being the essence of noir. it stopped raining. yeah, a half-hour ago. oh, which way is it to the east side subway? 'round the corner, past the el, 4 blocks. oh, thank you, officer. i guess i got turned around. these streets are all mixed up in greenwich village. (hoberman) appearances are deceptive.
space is deformed by the lighting patterns. it's the city late at night. chris gets involved in a violent scene that he can't really understand. and, in fact, it's quite violent. for the time, the idea that a woman would be lying on the ground while this guy is kicking her is fairly sadistic and is typical of more violence. along the sociological analysis, chris feels that to be masculine, first of all, you save women in distress; and, secondly, to be masculine, you also have a glamorous woman interested in you. we might also have been wondering, is she the noir femme fatale? is he hurt? i'll go call a policeman.
no, wait! wait! she's kind of fetishized, wrapped up this transparent raincoat, which is both tawdry and glamorous at the same time, a beautiful, mysterious woman who is instantly duplicitous. where'd they go? in that direction. what does he look like? i don't know. i didn't see his face. he took $15. he didn't believe it was all i had, so he began pushing me around. then this gentleman ran in and knocked him down. that's right, officer. he was right there. i couldn't hold him. he got up and ran. come on. let's get outta here. but we have to wait for the officer. i don't want to get my name in the newspaper; do you? we'll have to go the station house and make a complaint. then every time they make an arrest, they send detectives to your house for weeks. oh, it's a nuisance! won't you take me home?
kitty is clearly an experienced woman. we know that because she's so familiar with the ways of the police. it's one of the ways in which she's able to take charge of the scene and of chris cross, the robinson character, and draw him across the line of respectability into this shadowy nether world. in general, you have three, at most four, points of view working in a film. you have an omniscient point of view, which is the kind of authorial point of view. it can be very neutral or it can be very editorial. at the beginning of the scene, we're seeing from the outside. we're seeing this little man with an umbrella kind of wandering around in the rain, a little bit lost. then there is the point of view of the characters. and the first point of view of a character we get into is chris cross's point of view looking at this woman being beaten by a man. but then we go back, and this is a little more editorial ... i'll go call the policeman. no, wait! wait!
this is the author, who's in control of the movie, letting us see something that we know but edward g. robinson doesn't know. we cut away with edward g. robinson running off into the distance. then when we cut back to her, we see her looking off-screen left. edward g. robinson and the cop, of course, don't see which way the guy went 'cause she kind of recovers and brushes off and picks something up. they come back. she says, "oh, he ran off." screen right. so from this point on, we'll have suspicions about kitty that chris cross is not going to have. the femme fatale, then, is a seductress. it's a very beautiful woman whose beauty bedazzles the male hero and who uses her beauty and the bedazzling of the male to achieve her usually evil ends. listen, baby. you got him right where you want him. he's on the hook and can't get off. he can walk out, can't he?
he's got a wife, hasn't he? just drop a hint that his wife might find out about this apartment and he'll shell out fast. that's blackmail. it's only blackmail, baby, when you're dumb enough to get caught. what's very interesting about kitty as a femme fatale is her subservience to johnny. her femme fatale nature is brought out by johnny. (knocking on door) is that him? i told you i heard the doorbell. get rid of him. it's very clear it's specifically sexual prowess that keeps kitty tied to johnny. we don't actually see any sexuality, but it's clearly indicated that they are involved in sex and leisure and pleasure. this scene seems to be heavily encoded. there's a whole underlying sense of them
belonging to a particular demimonde. why? don't you answer doorbells? thought you were mad at me. peace offering: scotch. thanks, honey. i didn't think you were out. it's only 10 past 12. millie showing up with a bottle of scotch. it's just noon. kitty rarely is able to rouse herself sufficiently to put on anything more than a robe over her slip, calling kitty a "working girl." you're doing all right for a working girl. don't start that again. the suggestion is that kitty has elevated herself from the street to being a kept woman. don't tell me he's under the sofa, too. no, bright eyes. we do have the only positive woman, really, in the sociological analysis now, and it's millie. and millie is, indeed, an independent working girl. she's smart. you can come out, johnny. she's witty. all you have to do is call, funny face. she's a very important contrast to kitty.
you must have made a killing in wall street, mr. prince. could be. the last time i saw johnny, he was talking about going to hollywood. i might try it yet. why, i read in a movie magazine about a fella who landed in hollywood stone-broke and cleaned up a million, no experience, either. all he had was looks, and he worked in a drugstore. if he worked, johnny, he didn't look like you. so she's wise to johnny. they kind of spar quite a bit. and there's this, uh, veiled dislike between them, but because they're both hooked up with kitty, they're not gonna come to blows. kitty, meanwhile, can't engage on this level, at all, of wit. you two stop fighting. i'm not fighting, baby. she just doesn't know my speed. why, i hear of movie actors getting 5- 10,000 a week. for what? for acting tough, for pushing girls in the face. what do they do i can't do? if you're so clever, why don't you do it? i might, funny face. i might.
(knocking on door) she's putty to johnny, and then she's a femme fatale in relation to chris. so she's really a split. chris! i've brought over some of the my things, kitty. i'll bring some more tomorrow, the rest on saturday. film noir is a world of duplicity. people lie to each other. oh, you have company? just millie and johnny. joh ... ? you know, millie's boyfriend. the denizens of this world just lie to him without a second thought. ... and johnny prince. glad to know you, mr. cross. johnny is dangling chris on a string through kitty. so that that puts the viewer in the position of knowing that cross is really a dupe, which is a weak -- a very weak masculine kind of position. he accepts everything at face value, and yet he's still disturbed. how do you do?
it seems to me i've seen you before somewhere. could be. could be, mr. cross. yes. i, uh, i just don't seem to remember. maybe i'm mistaken. could be. edward g. robinson is kind of lost in these taller people's bodies. so when he enters, he doesn't take over the room. he's almost like an intruder. i'll go with you, sweetheart. oh, don't bother, johnny. i wouldn't think of lettin' you go alone, darling. you might get run over by a street car. each character has a rhythm of how they speak. good-bye, mr. cross. it's most markedly different between johnny and chris. johnny speaks almost only in statements of fact: "i'm going to do this." "only if you get caught." even when he's teasing, it has a point to it. "you might get run over by a street car." there's no hesitation in anything he says. he's very at ease with himself.
whereas chris, everything is hesitant. even his sentences always kind of start and stop. what's the matter, chris? i -- i don't think i like that young man she's in love with. oh, johnny's all right. oh, i know he is or he wouldn't be your friend. but there's something about him that -- she's crazy about him. uh, would you, uh -- would you like to see my pictures? not yet. come sit down, chris. you happy? what he is is a guy who is an eternal victim, and he's an easy mark. adelle is pretty much of a monster. she's kind of an escapee from a w.c. fields movie. she's the kind of wife who goes "humph" a lot and does go out of her way to be mean just to him.
let me back up. we first see her in the street, but it's a very different ichnography of the street than the street kitty was in. kitty was in a midnight street with everything dark and shadowy. adelle is on the street, but she's shopping and it's broad daylight, so it's a very permissible street for a woman to be out in when she sees the pictures. and she knows that it's supposed to be chris's, but it's got "kitty marsh," and so she comes home to yell that he's just copied and that he's no good. the scene unfolds like a nightmare. he's, in effect, cheating on his wife. she shows up. hello, adelle. i dropped over to the butcher shop like you told me to. i got a nice piece of liver. even the idea that his idea of dinner would be "a nice piece of liver" is something that tells you something. you can almost smell the dankness of this apartment.
he's in a frilly apron. he's in the kitchen doing the woman's role. he's making dinner. he also -- his language says, "i've just stopped by the butcher shop as you told me to, adelle." in the background we see this big oval picture of the ex, missing, dead -- possibly dead -- cop husband. it's very high up on the wall, so it's very, very dominant, not just that he'll never live up to this guy, but that it's the law. it's almost always in between them in the background. how long have you known kathryn marsh? answer me! (hoberman) it's a very ironic moment. i don't know what you're talking about. he's exposed in this scene for his double life, and yet he's not exposed. how long have you known her? now, don't get excited, dear. let me help you off with your coat. you're the one that's excited. and get away with that knife! do you want to cut my throat?
she articulates his unconscious desire: "do you want to cut my throat?" and, of course, he does, although he hasn't fully realized it yet. how long have you known her? so we're starting to think: oh, my god, is he going to kill his wife? and then his wife keeps pushing him and pushing him and saying nasty things to him while he's got a big butcher knife in his hand. and you just think: that's it. he's already stolen from her. he hates her guts. she's gonna push too far and he's gonna knife her. so this has been used to plant in our mind that he's got murder in his heart. i don't know what you're talking about. don't lie to me! you copy her work. pretending you painted those pictures out of your own head ... i bet you're at delerose every day making notes. where? delerose art gallery on 57th street. they've got a window full of paintings by kathryn marsh. you're talking crazy. she gets $500 for for a single picture. she's a genius.
no wonder i used to think sometimes there was something in your work. if you ever do any more painting around here, i swear i'll write that woman a letter telling her you're stealing her ideas. we've already seen chris in the domestic sphere with his shrewish wife, completely emasculated and clearly impotent. you're a thief! we've seen him struggling to become a man and at each point the women have blocked him. you have a situation where chris is being accused of a crime that he didn't commit. he did not plagiarize the paintings -- it's his work -- just as by the end of the movie, he will have eluded punishment, or at least punishment by the state, for a crime that he did commit. (laughing) that's love, honey. (glass breaking)
(whispering) here he is now. good-bye, hon. hello, johnny. come on, johnny. i heard you. she is lounging like a chocolate-covered cherry in a candy box there, with all that light and all those fluffy pillows and the mirror and everything like that. and in comes this guy who looks like death on a soda cracker. usually he's quite tentative. this time he seems dangerous. when he begins speaking to her, he again wants to make excuses. he's placating and so on, but something seems to have snapped in the character, so that he is, in a way, taking possession of that space. you lied to me, kitty. it was him, wasn't it? can i help it if i'm in love? no. it's just an infatuation.
you couldn't love a man like that, kitty. he's evil. he wouldn't let you alone. isn't that right? i wanted to kill him, but that's wrong. there's these mirrors on the side of the bed, which are always very useful in staging -- you know, in a kind of literal way. she is literally two-faced. why'd you come here? to ask you to marry me. what about your wife? i haven't any wife. that's finished. her husband turned up. i'm free. (laughing or crying) don't cry, kitty. i know how you feel, but that's all over now. we all make mistakes. i don't care what's happened. i -- i can marry you now. i want you to be my wife. we'll go away together, way far off, so you can forget this other man. don't cry, kitty, please. to get that mirror shot,
she actually had to cheat her face toward the mirror. so she's probably looking at him like this, so that we get a good, almost full frontal shot of her in the mirror. and we've got a three-quarters of edward g. robinson on the other side of the screen, and you didn't have to move the camera or cut into what's a kind of a two-shot, dramatic scene. i'm not crying, you fool. i'm laughing! kitty ... oh, you idiot! how can a man be so dumb? kitty? (laughing continues) i wanted to laugh in your face ever since i first met you! even though she's really chewing the scenery, she doesn't stand up and tower over him. so she doesn't really take over this time. we can worry about her future in that she's still down there. you're old and ugly, and i'm sick of you! kitty, for heaven's sake. you kill johnny? i'd like to see you try!
why, he'd break every bone in your body! he's a man! you want to marry me? you? get outta here! we don't cut to him first moving toward her, and then cut back to her saying, "what are you doing?" we see her lose steam in the middle of her tirade. get out! get away from me! chris! get away from me! chris! chris! murder is very often at the center of film noir. an otherwise innocent or respectable man becomes a murderer. lang turns this into a blatant sex crime with him stabbing her on the bed originally seven times. it's this kind of cathartic, um ... horrible moment where their relationship is at last consummated. cross is trying to find masculinity in this relationship with kitty. you can forget this other man. don't cry, kitty. please don't cry. i'm not crying, you fool. i'm laughing!
it's aost unbearable for the woman he loves to turn on him and berate him for being old and ugly. you kill johnny? i'd like to see you try! why, he'd break every bone in your body! it's the second time. homer's been the real man. johnny's the real man. he's nothing. get away from me! chris! chris! get away from me! he goes towards her as he had gone towards adelle, but, of course, hadn't completed the action with the knife. it's his third phallic weapon, we could say, the umbrella being the first, the knife the second. he simply releases his rage and he murders her. get away from me! chris! chris! this is very much a male perspective. i mean, i'm honoring its incredible ability to produce this insight about masculinity. but in order to do that, lang has to sacrifice the female roles.
billy wilder could have made this movie, and it would have ended up a comedy. he would have skipped the stabbing and probably chris and kitty would have ended up being married at the end, and in the same exact relationship. and johnny would have continued to have his affair with her, and chris would have thought he was the luckiest guy in the world. there's the odd footnote of walter wanger going to prison some years after this movie for shooting the agent of his wife, joan bennett. so it's hard now to distinguish, you know, one sense of joan bennett from her appearance as a femme fatale. (narrator) you must see "scarlet street." ♪ (dramatic music playing) captioned by real-time captioning van nuys, california.